Smoking bylaw having no effect on restaurants

By Stephanie Harrington

Restaurant business has scarcely been affected by Ottawa’s three-month-old anti-smoking bylaw, a survey reveals.

Results of the informal survey of 20 restaurants in Centretown contrasts sharply with a PUBCO survey of 54 of the 172 locally- owned bars, taverns and pubs it represents in opposing the smoking bylaw.

The PUBCO survey claims that sales fell 22 per cent in September compared with last year, 77 employees were laid off and shifts were reduced by 3,514 hours as a direct result of the bylaw.

Bingo hall revenue also fell more than 40 per cent in September and three of Ottawa’s 10 commercial bingo halls are in danger of closing, a published report says.

That restaurants report little change in business also contrasts with Ottawa’s prediction that business from new non-smoking customers would increase after a three-month adjustment period.

Restaurants have lost some smoking customers but have also gained new non-smoking customers, which balances out sales.

“The only thing I see is a difference in behaviour. Smokers eat and then leave … There are fewer drinks but a higher turnover,” says Suzie Ng, manager of Yangtze Restaurant on Somerset Street West.

Several restaurant managers say that instead of sipping a cognac or enjoying another drink after dinner, many smokers are bolting for the door or are lounging at restaurants in Hull.

Jesse Groves, a manager at Trattoria Caffe Italia on Preston Street, says his liquor sales have declined and his smoking customers are not dining out as frequently.

“I don’t think we’ve really lost (our smoking) customers. But instead of the five times they come here, now it’s three, and the other two times they’re going to Hull,” says Groves.

People generally don’t socialize at restaurants for as long as they do at bars, making it easier for smokers to hold out for an hour or so for a cigarette.

“Its like a movie,” says Steve Wallace, manager of the Ritz on Elgin Street. “It’s two hours. Do you get up in the middle of a movie for a cigarette? No.”

Eight of the 20 restaurants surveyed were already non-smoking before the anti-smoking bylaw and two other restaurants occasionally went non-smoking if it met customer demand. The Savana Cafe on Gilmour Street noticed a decline in the use of its smoking section last year.

Because many restaurants are small, smoke wafted into the non-smoking section, making it uncomfortable for some customers. The Ritz has been a non-smoking establishment for 10 of the 20 years it’s been open.

La Favorita Ristorante on Preston Street made the decision to switch three months before the bylaw because many customers were non-smokers.

Smokers for the most part, have not complained about being ostracized from restaurants, managers say. But the weather is still warm.

Managers predict winter will be the bylaw’s true test.

“What are we going to do when it’s 40 below out?” says Tony Zacconi, owner of La Veccnia Trattoria on Preston Street. “(Smokers) are going to stay home.”